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Ontario: Aspiration and Ambition
02/02/2003
For several years now, I have thought that the defining issue in Ontario provincial politics ought to be the question of ambition. What sort of province do we aspire to create? All along, the Harris/Eves Tories have tried to position themselves as the party of economic growth in Ontario. "Yes", their supporters might say, "at times they had to institute tough policies that cut social assistance, education, etc., but their overarching promise was that this was all for the greater goal of the long-term, competitive development of the province." This sounds somewhat aspirational, but I feel that they have actually aimed rather low. It is hard to understand the Ontario PC voter without first understanding what came before. After decades of seemingly consistent management at Queen's Park, things were shaken up by Bob Rae in the first half of the 1990s. Whatever the goals of this NDP government, they zigged when they should have zagged. An economic downturn combined with increased spending resulted in a massive first-year budget deficit of about $1,000 per Ontarian. Immediately public opinion crashed, along with confidence in the government's competence. Along came Mike Harris and his Common Sense Revolution. He promised to be the Bob Rae antidote. What was seen as irresponsibility and poison for business was to be replaced with its opposite. We know what happened next: Big tax cuts. Huge spending cuts. Rearrangements. Downloading. Some of this was necessary. Some of it was terribly misguided. The promise of an Ontario that is open to business sounds appealing. But what sort of business are we talking about? Again, the question, what sort of province do we aspire to create? There is a difference between the sorts of policy that promote low-level, low-skill, commodity-type, businesses that are highly sensitive to cost and the sorts of policy that promote innovative, growth-oriented, high-skills, creative enterprises. On one hand we have a policy oriented towards the future. On the other hand, we have what the PC Party has brought us. A government that simultaneously delivers some of the lowest taxes in North America and some of the most underfunded schools in North America is a government that does not aspire to much. A government that is afraid of the culture of its cities and leaves them to decline while extracting their wealth is a government that doesn't understand that creativity and diversity create innovation and growth. A government that neglects the health of its citizens and its environment is a government that believes in a lower quality of life for its people. We can talk about being competitive, but in which league will we be playing? Is Ontario competing with California and Massachusetts, or are we competing with Mississippi and Chihuahua? It is time for a change in Ontario, and it is time for some ambition.
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